Is Sarkozy milking the fear of radical Islam for political gain?

At least 10 people have been arrested this morning in France on suspicion of being linked to a radical Islamist plot, adding to the 14 placed under formal investigation yesterday for allegedly plotting a kidnap a Jewish judge in Lyon. On top of this, the govenment this week expelled five allegedly radical Islamist clerics from France, and announced four more, invited to the French Association of Islamic Organisations' annual congress in Paris this weekend, would not be welcome on French soil. For the right wing press, this is an appropriate response to the Islamist threat - some of these preachers, after all, are on record saying some pretty extreme things, like Youssef al-Kardawi's statement that the Holocaust was a punishment from God.

For a President just two and a half weeks from an election, though, this does seem pretty convenient. It's a clear attempt to head far right opponent Marine le Pen off at the pass, as she tours TV sets saying she's long been telling everyone the threat of radical Islam was being underestimated in France. It's also overdramatising a danger experts say has much decreased in recent years - one tells Liberation the jihadist agenda is finding it difficult to recruit across Europe after being so comprehensively overtaken by democratic reformists in the Middle East, and in France especially extremist clerics have been keeping a very low profile for some time after previous crackdowns by the intelligence services. Cynically, the Toulouse shootings have provided the president with an opportunity he is mining to the fullest - and he's also very aware that the outcome of an ongoing invesigation into whether the intelligence services missed an opportunity to catch Mohammed Merah sooner could well turn out to be very embarrassing for his government, hence the overcompensation now.

One thing seems to have been left out of this election campaign entirely, after all the discussion we've had of halal meat and extremist dangers - the Muslim voters. The French don't keep exact figures for religious minorities, believing it to be against the principle that all are equal in the eyes of the state, but there are at least a million Muslims on the electoral roll. Unlike politicians in Britain, for example, here no-one has really made an attempt to court the Muslim vote. Many now feel disgusted by politicians who've stigmatised them again and again - and say they'll be staying away from the polls all together. I went to meet some of them at the Paris halal food fair.



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